'Fruit makes an ideal subject choice for the botanical art beginner as, unlike flowers and leaves, you should have sufficient time to complete the drawing before there is any change or deterioration,' says Susan Christopher-Coulson.

'I chose tamarillos for the demonstration (see below) for their clean-edged, plump forms and vibrant skin hues, which are quite dense in places.

'Although these are depicted through simple colour transitions, there are still challenges to overcome. I have completed one of the fruits then shown the other two in different stages to emphasise the transformations in colour build up.

'Spend time getting to know your subject before starting the finished work. Make preliminary studies in a sketchbook to demystify fine details, check measurements, note relative proportions, and especially to record form accurately with its highlights and shadows.

'A quick full tonal sketch in graphite would be helpful and make sure that you are happy with the presentation angle of your subject and composition before starting.'

A colourful example of fruits and seeds

A Colourful Conclusion, coloured pencil,(43x25cm)
I was attracted by the vibrancy of colour here and the fine detail in the seeds and dissections.
Yellows can be particularly challenging and it is essential to choose appropriate shadow colours in the undercoat layers to create subtle and effective blends.

Material requirements

1. A clean sheet of a reasonably weighty smooth paper to fix between the drawing board and the working sheet avoids the transfer of any unwanted texture from board to finished work.

2. You may also wish to have a clean sheet of acid-free white tissue paper to put under your working hand to help prevent the transfer of natural skin oils and pigment contamination to your finished work.

3. A very sharp pencil sharpener is essential. I use a simple hand-held version with a container to collect shavings and with two sizes of hole that accommodates all of the Artists’ quality coloured pencils.

4. A very soft pliable putty rubber, such as Maped’s grey kneadable rubber, and a plastic eraser, such as Staedtler’s Rasoplast are also important.

Preferred papers

My preferred paper is Bristol board. Its smooth surface is ideal for botanical work and the whiter ground shows the luminosity of coloured pencils well.

I used a sheet of Canson Bristol board from an A3 pad for the tamarillo study.


Top tip

Check regularly that the white paper around the image remains clear.

Use a clean plastic eraser to remove stray pigment, taking care not to smear colour accidentally while working.

Preferred pencils

The coloured pencils for the study are from Derwent Artists’ range.

For simplicity the project can be completed with these. However, you could add a final glaze of Derwent Coloursoft pencils for additional colour saturation and heightening.

Colours with the same or similar names from other brands are unlikely to be exactly the same as those used from the Derwent ranges so the final result will be different.

Work with needle sharp points, and avoid harsh edges where different tonal depths meet by using a light stroke to ‘wash’ different layers into each other softly at junctions.


Artichoke, Asparagus & Baby Aubergine, coloured pencil, (42x15cm)
I was attracted by the unusual contrast in the actual sizes of the subjects in the drawing above, as well as the details of form and texture.
I particularly enjoy the challenge of working with very intense colours, as for the aubergine. This requires control when creating a suitable foundation depth of colour in the undercoat layers to produce not only the intensity of the darkest areas but also allow the subtlety of the shine on the skin texture, where pale colours are added to lesser tint strengths.

Before you begin

Practice your pencil strokes

Practise applying colour with light pressure, aiming for even strokes and smooth coverage.

Since everyone’s pressure is different, the number of layers suggested in the following demonstration is only a guide so please take notice of the colour densities visible in the images.

1. The top line shows a close hatching stroke worked in three directions (as shown by the graphite marks).

Each layer is worked with the same light pressure so, when each is overlaid, it is clear to see the increased colour density with an even colour build up; the paper grain also fills up so that colour appears smoother.

2. The line below shows the same build up as above, but using a continuous elliptical stroke this time.

I prefer to use a close hatching stroke for larger areas, applying continuous colour on the up and down strokes, but in smaller sections a more elliptical stroke may be useful.

Keep strokes very close together. Use a stroke that feels natural to you and allows you to achieve a light, even layer of colour.

Demonstration: Trio of Tamarillos

Step 1

Make a clean, light line drawing in soft graphite, preferably directly onto the paper to create a more spontaneous, sinuous line. Avoid using heavy pressure, which may indent the paper surface.

Once satisfied with the accuracy of your drawing, remove the graphite and reinstate the line in colour.

Top tip

You must now maintain needle sharp pencil points throughout.

Choose a darkish colour that will blend in as colours build up. I used burnt carmine for the fruit and sepia for the stem and calyx.

The final work needs a crisp edge, but not an obvious outline.

Remember to maintain this crispness after every two to three layers of colour to prevent edges appearing woolly.

Step 2

1. Using grape as the darkest shadow value, map out the tonal values, leaving only the strongest highlights and the disappearing edges below the calyx as bare paper.

2. In the darkest value areas, add grape to the edge then draw the colour into the fruit, mapping out the areas where colour is densest with three to four light, quick layers.

3. Apply each layer in a different direction to work colour gently into the paper grain (crosshatching).

4. Vary the number of layers according to the tonal strength.

5. At this stage colour is semi-transparent with degrees of slight opacity depending on tonal values, and pencil strokes and directions are visible.

6. A pale tint is needed even for the lightest areas, excluding the strongest highlights. Between the base edge and just below the horizontal midline of the fruit, where colour is more golden, it needs the least tint of grape. This ensures subsequent colours will not be perceived as too thin on completion.

7. Apply two layers of indigo on the darkest areas of the upper stalk for depth then add a touch to the darker areas along the undulating edges of the calyx and flush into the central markings.

8. Use two light layers of sepia over the lower stalk and undersides of the calyx, but only a tint on the upper surface.

Step 3

1. Still maintaining light pressure and using alternating directions for each layer, add burnt carmine as the second fruit colour by repeating where grape was applied.

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2. Add a tint strength of burnt carmine to the disappearing edges (below calyx), a couple of fine tint layers to the lesser highlight (near the top edge) and to close some of the main highlight. The focus of the main highlight remains bare.

3. On the stalk and calyx add a layer of grape over the indigo to emphasise the main crease running down the stalk. Some strokes may still be visible, but aim to smooth colour and strokes as layers develop. The shadow tones are still visible.

Step 4

1. Reinstate the edges with the next colours: claret for the fruit and burnt umber for the stem.

2. Before the addition of each subsequent colour, assess that form is developing effectively. If shadow tones need boosting, go back to the required colour and work up through the sequence of colours before adding the new colour.

3. Using claret, repeat the layering pattern of the burnt carmine, including the tint strengths on lesser lights and disappearing edges.

4. Continue to build up layers.

5. Add burnt umber over the darker areas of the stalk to develop a near-black.

6. Add more crease lines and a tint strength to the darker areas of the calyx.

Step 5

1. Madder carmine is the next colour transition for the fruit. Follow the layering pattern as before but add only a hint to the disappearing edges and all highlights. The colour should be noticeably thinner.

2. Use slightly firmer pressure to burnish colours together where the colour is densest in the darkest values.

3. Add a light layer of sepia over the stem and calyx, making sure that the shadow areas are clearly visible. The paper grain should be less evident in the darkest values where colour is reaching completion and the paper surface is beginning to fill up. But the surface is still more evident in lighter areas, where additional colour blends are needed.

Step 6

1. With slightly firmer pressure (still not heavy) use deep vermilion to burnish all layers of the fruit except for the disappearing top edge (towards pointed end) and the main highlight. Use only a whisper of colour to the lesser lights and disappearing edges (below the calyx).

2. Add burnt sienna to the base of the stalk and underside of the calyx.

3. Return to indigo and with quite a firm pressure (but not heavy) add to the darkest areas of the stem and into the creases as well as the darker edges of the calyx to intensify the definition.

Step 7

1. Add middle chrome to the more golden sweep over the reds between the darker top and bottom edges, ensuring that colour is merged gently into the surrounding reds. This adds a glow to areas where colour has been less densely applied during layering.

2. On the darkest area of the stalk return to burnt umber to crisp up the edges, and apply with firm pressure over the indigo, burnishing together for a rich near-black. (Using black alone deadens the colour).

3. Avoiding the lighter top surface of the calyx, use middle chrome with a firm pressure to ‘wash’ up the lower stalk towards the wrinkles.

4. Then add a light tint to the underside of the calyx.

Step 8

It is easier to control the ripening streaks by drawing them over the skin colour layering.

Begin with grape followed by burnt carmine then claret to add depth.

Use a fidgety, sketchy stroke with freshly sharpened pencils to achieve random linear marks with slightly ragged edges.

You will need firm (not heavy) pressure for them to sit on top of the skin colours.

Step 9

1. For a very subtle colour boost to complete the highlights use soft violet with gentle pressure to burnish the tint strengths used for the lesser lights and disappearing edges. Quick, small elliptical strokes may help this process.

2. Also whisper soft violet very gently over the main highlight where there should be minimal tint strength.

3. Use a soft fidgety stroke to blur and merge the margins of highlights into the surrounding reds so avoiding rigid junctions.

4. Use a light ochre ‘wash’ (see introduction) to emphasise the stalk and calyx highlights.

Step 10

1. The finished drawing has a final glaze of Coloursoft pencils to heighten colour intensity and smoothness. This will appear very subtle in the printed version but an additional smoothness should just be visible: deep red was used to ‘polish’ the darkest areas; bright orange for the glow area (of Step 7); and rose for the mid tones. Remember to merge the colours subtly at their margins.

2. Repeat the process to complete the trio of tamarillos, using observation to decide what colours and amounts are appropriate for the other fruit.

Susan Christopher-Coulson

Susan teaches at Alston Hall, Lancashire (01772 784661); Field Breaks, Derbyshire (Contact Sue Field 01433 621420); Higham Hall College, Cumbria (01786 776276); and Plas Tan y Bwlch, Snowdonia (0871 871 4004). She also holds workshops around the country. Visit www.floraleyes.co.uk or email her on [email protected]

This feature is taken from the June 2014 issue of Leisure Painter


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